Friday, July 30, 2010

Here goes nothin'

As most of you probably know, I'm moving to Uganda on Monday, until June or July 2011. Rather than inundating friends, family, and acquaintances with random emails, I'm taking the advice of several friends and starting a blog. I had a blog briefly in college, but on the whole this is going to be a new experience for me. I hope you'll bear with me as I figure out what I should post, what I should leave out, and how many pictures I should include of Ugandan children running after me yelling "mzungu bye!" That phrase roughly translates into "foreigner/white person bye!" and is a favorite of young children in rural parts of East Africa.

A bit more about what I'll be doing: The Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholars and Fellows Program is sponsoring me to work with the Joint Clinical Research Centre and Case Western Reserve University.  (I'll try to write more about JCRC in the future - it's a phenomenal organization.) I may also be working with researchers and clinicians at Mulago Hospital or the Tuberculosis Research Unit, but more on that if it materializes.

In addition to sponsoring a US-based graduate student, Fogarty sponsors a Ugandan for a year, in an effort to build local capacity for health research (one of the reasons I picked this program). My counterpart/twin - Ekwaro - is a physician who is particularly interested in tuberculosis and has been working with various institutions over the past several years. We had a chance to meet and hang out during our orientation process at Case and at the NIH and got along smashingly well.

Francis Collins (Director of the NIH), me, and Ekwaro (yellow shirt) along with several other Fogarty Scholars

While at Case, we met with several faculty members to discuss potential projects, and we'll be doing the same with Ugandan researchers once I arrive in Kampala. My US-based mentor, Dr. Bob Salata, has recommended that I have a plan for the year in place by the end of August, so hopefully I'll be able to provide more of an update by then about my research plans.

I'm glad to be going back to Uganda, where I've worked twice before. In 2005, I led a team of 7 volunteers for Uganda Village Project, a health and development NGO in Iganga district (eastern Uganda). In 2008, I worked in Kayunga, Uganda with researchers at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University as a field coordinator for a pilot study that assessed whether computer-based cognitive rehabilitation exercises could treat ARV-refractory cognitive deficits experienced by HIV+ children. Both of those were wonderful experiences for me, and are a big part of why I wanted to come back to Uganda.

Once I get settled in and my start fulfilling my research responsibilities with JCRC, I'm hoping to explore doing some work on my own time with UVP, the UM/MSU researchers, or with several other groups I'm in touch with that are doing research or policy work on health and human rights, access to essential medicines, open educational resources, palliative care, etc. I'm also going to try to pick up more Luganda and maybe learn some Kiswahili through language courses. I get excited about a lot of different topics and am lucky to have many colleagues in the region, so staying focused is going to be important this year!

(I should note that everything on this blog is my own opinion and in no way reflects the views or positions of any organizations or persons I work with, including JCRC, Case Western, the Fogarty International Center, the NIH, etc.)